Good Neighbours Come Together in West Somerset
In January this year, the Dulverton Good Neighbours group was launched as part of the Somerset Good Neighbours scheme run by CCS (The Community Council for Somerset). Working closely with their local CCS Village Agent the group has rapidly established itself as a valuable local voluntary resource to support the community, particularly during the current COVID-19 crisis. The group now has over 70 active volunteers all of whom have been provided with Dulverton Good Neighbours ID cards and car stickers, courtesy of local printing firm Stickerzilla.
In February, early discussions were also in hand between CCS and Dulverton Junior School regarding using space at the school premises for a local Food Bank as the nearest Food Bank was the West Somerset Food Cupboard in Alcombe, Minehead – nearly 20 miles away.
As COVID-19 restrictions began to be imposed in mid-March, CCS Village Agent, Jane Lillis, worked together with Carly Hatch, Headmistress of Dulverton Junior School and the Dulverton Good Neighbours group to transform the embyonic idea of a Food Bank into reality. Jenny Barker of the Good Neighbours group offered to take on the role of co-ordinator and together with Amanda Rae, who had jointly set up the Dulverton Area Coronavirus Support group online, they set to work to establish a Food Bank resource to serve the local Exmoor community. A meeting was arranged with Anne Gibbs, co-ordinator of the West Somerset Food Cupboard who provided valuable support and advice and along with a small number of Food Bank volunteers the Dulverton Food Bank was established by the end of March.
At the time, particularly because of the COVID-19 restrictions, there were concerns about the likely reduced level of donations of non-perishable food items to the Food Bank something that was likely to be particularly evident as Dulverton is a small town with only one small general supermarket. However, the community responded magnificently and financial donations and grants to support the Food Bank and Dulverton Good Neighbours group have been received from Dulverton Town Council, Streamcombe Allotment Charity, Dulverton PCC, Brushford Parish Council, The Exmoor Society, and Somerset Community Foundation as well as from numerous individuals.
These financial donations allowed the Food Bank Co-ordinator to purchase much needed non-perishable food items to fill the Food Boxes – although these supplies again proved a challenge to find and it was an intervention again by CCS that provided access to a food supply chain that the Food Bank could access. Several local food donation drop off points were also established including the local Co-op store and the Junior School reception.
School meal vouchers were becoming difficult to redeem locally due to shortage of supplies and instead the Dulverton Food Bank now supplies food boxes to those families in addition to referrals coming in from support agencies and Jane in her role as CCS Village Agent.
Dulverton Food Bank works in partnership with the Dulverton Good Neighbours group and the Dulverton Area Coronavirus Support Group whose volunteers deliver the boxes as well as helping with shopping and prescription collection and delivery. The Coronavirus Support Group have also set up a jigsaw and book swap scheme, maintaining safe practices, to help keep spirits up.
In Dulverton issues of living in a rural location have been overcome with effective partnership working and community support. Within just a few short weeks a robust and amazing resource has been set up and is actively serving its local community.